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Ethier's homer can't sink Halos

Ethier's homer can't sink Halos

ANAHEIM -- Interleague Play Friday night allowed the Dodgers a designated hitter, when what they really needed was a designated thrower.

They threw away a game to the Angels, 4-2, wasting an Andre Ethier home run and a quality start from Hiroki Kuroda while slipping back into their Interleague funk. They've lost eight of their last nine to the Angels, nine of their last 10 at Angel Stadium and 24 of their last 28 road Interleague games.

Every Angels rally was accompanied by a Dodgers throwing mistake. A missed cutoff by fill-in rookie shortstop Luis Maza put an additional run in scoring position in the fifth inning. Maza was playing for slumping Chin-lung Hu, who had replaced the disabled Rafael Furcal.

A leadoff walk, two wild Kuroda pitches and a bounced throw home by fill-in third baseman Russell Martin allowed the final Angels run to score. Martin, at third because Blake DeWitt's back is still stiff, also was charged with his first throwing error as an infielder after making a difficult stop on a Robb Quinlan grounder in the sixth inning.

But the play that will dominate "SportsCenter" was the three-base throwing error by catcher Gary Bennett, playing because Martin was at third, as he did the day before when he slugged a three-run homer.

The error came on a fourth-inning Erick Aybar strikeout that should have been the final out of the inning. Bennett smothered Kuroda's splitter in the dirt as Aybar swung and missed, then airmailed his throw five feet over first baseman James Loney. By the time Ethier retrieved the ball on the warning track, Casey Kotchman had scored from second base.

It brought out of the shadows Bennett's obvious but unspoken throwing problem. Although he can fire throws to the bases, he seems to have a mental block about return throws to pitchers, taking three steps toward the pitcher, then making an exaggerated lob to the mound.

On the Aybar strikeout, he positioned himself in front of the plate to avoid throwing into the runner, but appeared to be caught in between on the throw, taking his arm back at half-speed as if cocking for a lob, then speeding up the motion and the ball took off.

"I just made a bad throw. I threw it away, that's it," said Bennett, who was waiting for reporters at his locker. Bennett made a perfect throw to first on a similar strikeout pitch in the dirt the following inning.

Manager Joe Torre conceded that Bennett has an issue on return throws to the pitcher, but wouldn't link that to his error Friday night.

"He only does that [lob] back to the mound. He has no problem to the bases," said Torre. "It has not been an issue except back to the mound where certainly he hasn't been comfortable. I've gone through it with catchers in the past, with [Jorge] Posada. It comes and goes. It's not always there.

"Benny at times threw one away and I think he gets to the point where he feels more comfortable doing that [lobbing]. It comes and goes and right now it's here. That [lobbing to the mound] didn't cost us. It was the throw to first base that cost us."

The last Major League catcher with a publicized case of what golfers might call "the yips" was Mackey Sasser, who would double-, triple- or quadruple pump before releasing the ball. A similar problem turned catcher Dale Murphy into an MVP center fielder. Torre said no pitcher has complained about Bennett's return throws, although all tend to walk toward Bennett to cut down the distance while taking the throw, especially with runners on base.

"That's just the way I throw it back," said Bennett.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers hardly had any more success with their bats against Angels starter Joe Saunders (7-1). They finished with five hits, stringing Loney's two-out single in the seventh and Ethier's fourth home run.

"It looked like he had an easy time doing what he was doing," Torre said of Saunders. "He put the ball where he wanted to and we didn't put any pressure on him."

Kuroda fell to 1-3. Last time out, he lost a no-hitter after 6 2/3 innings and this time he delivered a quality start over 6 1/3 innings, but his only win came in the first of his nine starts.

"We haven't scored many runs for him," said Torre. "Every single pitch, he has no breathing room. Aside from one misguided pitch to [Garret Anderson, during the fifth-inning rally], he was right on it today."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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